Crab of My Childhood

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I’ve been eating at Hua Yu Wee for years. My parents love this place and it was a natural place to have a birthday celebration for my father (yes, a second time, we always find excuses to eat good food).

We started off with the deep fried baby squid. Here, it’s done to perfection because it’s incredibly crispy even after sitting for a while. It’s the right blend of sweet, spicy and peppery. ‘Nuff said.

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The sambal dua tao are one of the few good renditions on the market. Here the sambal is spicy and not overly sweet with plenty of dried shrimp in the mix. I liked how the plump mussels were incredibly fresh and full of clean flavour. Thumbs up.

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The chicken was probably the weak link for the dinner. While the chicken was nicely browned and crisp, it wasn’t particularly flavourful and the green chilli sauce didn’t do much to lift it. Definitely not a re-order.

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Fish at this place was faultless as usual. The live seabass was steamed till just done and lightly seasoned with soy sauce and coriander. The smooth texture and good flavour of the fish was excellent as usual. Good with rice.

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Then came the stars of the show: the crab. Note how they’ve changed the presentation so people get to the good bits quick instead of having to turn over the shell first. The crab here is always sweet and meaty, and the chilli crab sauce is thick and spicy. I’m not such a big fan of chilli crab but the sauce is great with the deep fried mantou.

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My favourite type of crab here is the pepper crab. I like how it’s deeply spicy without being overwhelmed by peppery-ness. It’s got plenty of the depth of flavour of pepper and the top notes that quickly fade when pepper gets stale. This version is my favourite, I guess it’s hard to describe it well when the taste is so familiar. Just go have some and tell me what you think!

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Hua Yu Wee
462 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: 6241 1709

June in Thailand: The Stir-Fry Fireball and Other Cooking Adventures

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The highlight of Chiang Mai was something I hadn’t planned: cooking classes. I was intrigued by the large number of courses on offer at the various guesthouses. Cooking classes seemed as popular as day treks to the hilltribe villages. Tom and I decided that we just had to go for one. We chose The Best Thai Cookery School, run by the inimitable Permpoon “call me Perm” Nabnian, not just because of the price but also because of the almost shameless self-promotion on the brochure.

The morning started off from the back of his pickup truck, a nicely converted vehicle with fairly comfy seats at the back. He picked us all up personally, squeezed us all in the truck, and took us on a tour of a little local market. Here, he took us through the entire encyclopedia of Thai vegetables and herbs. Being Southeast Asian, I thought I’d be familiar with all he’d show us, but I was surprised when he showed us another version of ginger I didn’t know. Of course there was the regular ginger, there was blue ginger (galangal) and yellow ginger (turmeric). But there was also something called lesser or finger ginger, which he’s holding up on the left hand side of the picture. I also learned that Thai basil and holy basil were different plants, both also quite different from the sweet basil used in Mediterranean cooking.

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Aside from that, it was lovely to see the great variety of herbs and vegetables available in the Thai market. Seeing the cute rotund green brinjals made me want to set up kitchen there straight away. Along the way, Perm dispensed little tips like don’t be crazy like the Westerners and go for the largest eggs: buy only small eggs because they’re much tastier.

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And the mushrooms! I don’t know why, but fresh straw mushrooms just aren’t available in Singapore. I love this stuff in soup, especially tom yam. It really is just too bad that so far I’ve only found this good stuff in Thailand and China.

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Whirl round market over, we bundled back into the pickup and went to his house in the suburbs for the cooking lessons proper. First, we learned how to make mango sticky rice. I was surprised that it was made by steaming instead of the typical boiling my Chinese heritage is familiar with. I’ll share the recipe once I get round to making it at home.

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After a round of demonstrations, we were all obviously itching to go. We weren’t issued the aprons and dish cloths for nothing! We’d each chosen a stir-fry dish: I wanted the minced pork fried with holy basil and Tom went for the fried morning glory. The ingredients were all prepared for us and all we needed to do was a bit of minor chopping.

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After getting the food prep out of the way, we were ready for the most exciting part of the course! We took turns with our partners to do our respective dishes, for safety and also to make sure that there was a photographer to document the momentous occasion. First, we got our ingredients ready and stood by the hot woks. Perm came round adding the oil and checking our work stations.

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At his signal, it was time! With a great roar, the flames leapt up together with lots of smoke and exclamations from the more timid of the lot.

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It’s just too bad that the pictures didn’t really do it justice because the flames really went pretty high.

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They only truly died down when I added in the sauce ingredients.

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And there was my minced pork with holy basil replete with plenty of wok hei. Now this is how you do it!

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Next, Perm taught us how to make papaya salad (which I’d already learned by observing the people at the street stand in Laos!) and deep fried banana spring rolls.

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The fun tip I learned here was to use a cut up banana like a glue stick to seal the spring roll wrappers. In my greed, I later forgot to take pictures of them, so no you can’t see the finished product. However, what you can see is me grinning maniacally while making my spring roll.

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We proceeded on to making our own curries and carb dish. I made jungle curry and khao tom. Didn’t quite like the jungle curry but loved the khao tom. And I realise now that khao tom is all about the right kind of soy sauce and also the sprinkling of chinese parsley on top. Tom made a very yummy massaman curry and pad thai. Look at his pleased expression cooking it up! He had rather a short-lived (5 minutes to be exact) of going back to Wales to set up a Thai restaurant.

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As a bonus, Perm also very generously taught Tom and me to make coconut and banana soup. It’s pretty much the same as the soup we make further south in Malaysia and Singapore, just that I think our version is slightly better because we use the more fragrant gula melaka rather than white sugar. Nonetheless, we assembled all our cooking out in the patio and shared the food. It was all very very good, especially since many of my classmates were cooking for the first time. Just goes to show how good Perm is!

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Of course I had to have a parting shot with the chef himself. He was industriously preparing for the evening class already and I had to catch him at the back before he drove us back to town!

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Spruce: A Birthday Dinner

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The DC’s birthday was long overdue so I booked a table at Spruce so that we could try their famed ahi tuna starter and their supposedly famous burgers. The ahi tuna certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a western twist to negitoro: chopped tuna sashimi was seasoned and dressed with olive oil for unctuousness and sprinkled with chives, then eaten with some of the best baguette I’ve had in a while. Creamy avocado slices on the side lifted it to sublime. I’d go back there again just for that one dish.

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The problem with having the best dish first is that the rest of dinner, though competent, was a bit of a letdown. I liked the squid salad with rocket and roast lemon. I hate to complain about such a minor detail like fiddliness, but it was a bit of a mess trying to get to get the lemon juiced. It was a nice touch though, and enhanced the herby sharp rocket very well. The squid wasn’t too bad, but I’d prefer it a bit more charred so I can taste the smokiness.

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The burger wasn’t too bad either. The staff noted that we were sharing and were nice enough to instruct the kitchen to divide it up and skewer each half carefully. DC liked the tender patty, it was quite juicy and tasty, with good beefy flavour. I liked the chips: soft and fluffy on the inside and nicely crisp outside.

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The meal went downhill after that. There was a side of what were supposedly grilled mushrooms drowned in a lacklustre and vaguely vinegary (wine?) sauce, then a ginger steamed sponge. I don’t know why the presentation was so bad because the ice cream was half melted by the time it got to us (see the picture). Presentation aside, the cake itself was decent, though nothing to shout about.

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Service-wise, this place had great intentions. It was sweet of them to bring out a ginormous piece of chocolate cake for DC. The waitress came out with the candle ablaze and singing the birthday song. It was a pity that this was only after I’d asked for the bill and was preparing to go. Nevertheless, it was a nice touch. I’ll definitely be back for the ahi tuna and perhaps for other starters, but I’ll give the sides a miss.

Spruce
320 Tanglin Road
Phoenix Park
Tel: 6836 5528

August in China: Guangzhou Goose Galore

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I started August in China by crashing at Tortoise’s pad in Guangzhou. She wasn’t too impressed with the food there compared to her native Hong Kong, so I didn’t get many recommendations for where to go for good food. All I knew was that bird flu warnings or not, I was going to get my fill of goose.

And boy did I get my fill. One evening I walked down Beijing Street, a crowded shopping street crammed with tiny shops. Turning into one of the garrets, I found a little eating place like those pseudo-coffeeshops in Far East Plaza. This one had roast goose and I happily tucked into the soft kway tiao and msg-laden soup.

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In my last few days in Guangzhou, I was caught by Typhoon Nuri which was given a typhoon warning of 10! Tortoise had already evacuated back to Hong Kong but I had to stay put because of visa issues. I spent two days haunting her apartment, doing nothing but braving the occasional trip out to get food and then watching the Olympics on cable.

Tortoise had the good sense to stay nearby some decent food. There was this Teochew place that had braised goose. Ducking into the shop during lunch time, I asked for just a goose drumstick, but they only sold it by weight. I ended up ordering a jin (500 g) of goose, which worked out to be  about a third of the bird. I went the faux-Atkins route and had it accompanied only by vegetables. Boy was it heavenly.

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I ate the rest of it for dinner. And for breakfast the next morning, both in front of the TV watching Typhoon Nuri’s progress.

Another time, I made it to the Chinese fast food chain Zhen Gong Fu (literally: real kungfu), complete with Bruce Lee cartoon image. I’m guessing that they probably just lifted his image from some website and didn’t bother with copyrighting. The restaurant itself, if you can call it that, looked exactly like a McDonalds or KFC. You’ll have to look closely at the picture below to realise that they actually sold steamed dishes.

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A typical set meal consisted of a double-boiled soup, some kind of steamed meat and steamed vegetables. The Cantonese in me expected to have something vaguely wholesome and at the very least not too oily, but fast food is fast food and China is China. I had some kind of pork herbal soup covered with a layer of oil, chicken in black bean paste and too much oil, and steamed iceberg lettuce with (no prizes here) way too much oil. I suppose it’s still better in the nutritional scale than McDonalds anyway. Great concept though. I wonder if it’ll fly in Singapore.

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Nuri soon fizzled out and it was back to my regular programming of pulling up a stool at a roadside stall.

My Favourite Hong Kong Dessert

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Oh Yee Shun Steamed Ginger Milk, how many ways do I love thee? I discovered your shop, the Yee Shun Milk Company, while wandering around Causeway Bay.

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I berate myself because I thought you were naught but a tourist trap, simply from the Japanese words on the sign.

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Yet it was love at first sight when I spied the little bowls of ginger steamed milk awaiting the hungry hordes.

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I plucked up my courage, made it past the curt staff, timidly sat at my designated seat across from a similarly determined local, and ordered my silken bowl of ginger goodness. Oh my, the sinus-clearing sharpness of ginger, the impossibly smooth curd sweetened just right.

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I just had to drag my friends here the next day for more of my favourite Hong Kong dessert. Sadly, there’s no substitute in Singapore. I tried a version in Chinatown that disappointed so much I’ll just have to wait for my next visit to Hong Kong.


Yee Shun Milk Company
G/F 85 Percival Street
Causeway Bay
Tel: 2576 1828